Installation view Sean Kelly Gallery’s booth at ZsONA MACO, 2018. Courtesy of Sean Kelly Gallery. Photo by Sebastiano Pellion di Persano.
There’s no question that the hundreds of collectors, dealers, and museum types who descended on Mexico City this week for a trio of art fairs have a terrific time enjoying the city’s world-class museums and restaurants. Whether they, alongside Mexican and regional collectors, can sustain the growth that the country’s art market has experienced in recent years, is up for debate.
ZⓢONAMACO (commonly written as Zona Maco), now in its 15th year, opened Wednesday afternoon with 170 dealers participating from 27 countries. But the atmosphere, even on opening night, was subdued, and many international dealers said sales were slow to nonexistent over the first few days of the fair, although some who had attended the fair in prior years said Mexican collectors tend to close over the weekend. On Thursday at the two satellite fairs, Material and Salón Acme, the enthusiasm and goodwill were palpable, even if sales weren’t necessarily through the roof.
Explanations varied as to why sales were slow at Zona Maco. Some cited politics, with Mexico’s upcoming elections this summer a cause for uncertainty, or the potential renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which could have a significant impact on Mexico’s economic relations with the United States. Others wondered whether the economic aftershocks of last September’s earthquake, which hit Mexico City during Zona Maco’s sister fair, Salón del Anticuario, and led to the cancellation of the city’s gallery weekend, were still being felt. Others said it was simply down to the fact that Mexican collectors like to take their time.
According to dealers, all of the fairs this week appeared to draw a growing number of international collectors, for whom Mexico City is an ever-more-tempting stop on the art circuit, especially in the thick of winter in North America and Europe. (Guadalajara, too, was reportedly bustling with international visitors the weekend before the fairs.) The city, which boasts a number of extraordinary museums and a strong set of galleries, art spaces such as Lulu and Biquini Wax EPS, and working artists, has also become a destination for museum groups.
“This is an opportunity to come down to Mexico City, have great food and drink some tequila, do some studio visits and visit beautiful museums,” said Alex Logsdail, director of Lisson Gallery. “I think it’s kind of a logical escape for a lot of people.”
The gallery sold multiple works from the fair preview, including an Anish Kapoor mirror work that had an asking price of £525,000. In addition to works by recognizable names like Tony Cragg and Daniel Buren, Logsdail brought artists who were new to the Mexican market, such as Laure Prouvost, Stanley Whitney, and Leon Polk Smith. He noted that the fair serves an important role for them in maintaining long-term relationships with collectors the gallery works with here, even though, he said, “they may or may not buy at the fair.”
Wolfgang Tillmans, unlikely match, 2017. © Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy David Zwirner, New York, Galerie Buchholz, Cologne/Berlin, and Maureen Paley, London.
At David Zwirner, early sales were also spotty, but director Veronique Ansorge said this was typical for Zona Maco.
“It’s not a fair where all the action is on the first day,” she said. Two works by Wolfgang Tillmans sold early: Easter (2012) for $100,000 and unlikely match (2017), for $35,000. A Josh Smith painting, The Whole Point (2017) and Sensual Power (2017), each for $75,000, also sold in the next few days. Ansorge said she had seen a few Brazilian and Colombian collectors at the fair, as well as West Coast U.S. collectors and a lot of art advisors.
Lauren Kelly, a director at New York’s Sean Kelly Gallery, was comfortable with the plodding sales pace, especially since Sean Kelly Gallery works with a number of Latin American artists and Conceptual artists, both of which are readily understood and appreciated by Mexican collectors, she said.
“It’s a much more pleasant experience because it seems like they’re really considering the works and how it fits into their collection, rather than just shopping,” Kelly said. “So while it may be slow at this fair, in the long run, we make a lot of good connections.” She had sold several works by Mexican artist Jose Dávila, currently the subject of a show at one of Mexico City’s premier galleries, Galería OMR. Among them was a larger mobile, Homage to the Square (2016), for $50,000, with a second, smaller one, on hold, and an Alexander Calder-inspired paper cutout for $45,000.
At Galerie Lelong & Co.’s booth, several works had sold, all of which were by women. A work by Nancy Spero, Nicaragua (1986), was placed with a U.S. museum, while a small, untitled 2014 painting by Etel Adnan and a new work, Buddens: Drapery and Wattle (2017), by Australian artist and photographer Rosemary Laing were sold to private collectors. “It’s always worth your while,” said Mary Sabbatino, vice-president and partner at the gallery, even if sales are slow, recalling that one of her “worst fairs ever” financially speaking had led to the appearance of one of her artists, Zilia Sánchez, in the Venice Biennale, because at that fair, a Sánchez work had caught the eye of Centre Pompidou chief curator Christine Macel.
Claire Bergeal, an associate director at Bortolami, said that Zona Maco was fruitful ground for fostering relationships with local institutions. The gallery showed a mini-survey of Chicago-based artist Barbara Kasten, who is in her early 80s, but who many visitors thought was a young artist, a phenomenon Bergeal attributed to the lively colors and vividness of Kasten’s prints. By Friday evening, they had sold six out of the fourteen works they brought to the fair, with prices ranging from $15,000 to $35,000. Among the sales was Kasten’s Architectural Site 7, July 14, 1986 (1986) which went for between $20,000 and $30,000. She also highlighted a recent series in which Kasten shoots pieces of fluorescent Plexiglass with exposed film, giving the prints a pinkish cast. Some of the works had gone to Americans and some to local collectors, Bergeal said.
Nikola Cernetic of Turin’s Luce Gallery was one of the few international gallerists who had a robust early stretch of sales, with the majority of his solo presentation by New York-based artist Derek Fordjour placed by Friday evening. Perhaps surprisingly, almost none went to Mexican collectors, possibly, Cernetic said, because the issue of race raised in the works (Fordjour’s images feature black figures, painted on a collage-like surface of newspaper and cardboard) may not resonate locally. Fordjour’s work had been acquired last year by the Dallas Museum of Art from the Dallas Art Fair and he is currently finishing a residency at New York’s Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling. Six of the smaller works from the artist’s 2018 “Portrait Player” series sold for $9,000 each (two from in the booth and four that were not hung in the booth), while two of the larger ones, Six Count and Roll Tide Turn, sold for $18,000 each.
The international dealers who fared well tended to arrive with a number of relationships already in place. “You need some sort of inside track,” said Raymond Bulman, director of New York’s The Hole, which was participating for the first time at Zona Maco. “The Mexican collectors we knew from New York, they introduced us to a lot of other people here, and that has made it pretty good for us,” he said, despite the late arrival of their crate of paintings. For opening night, they had been able to show only one painting, A Breakthrough at Brunch (2018) by Alex Gardner, which went within the first hour to a Mexican collector. Bertram, a Pomeranian who frequently travels to fairs with The Hole’s owner Kathy Grayson, had, however, made it to Mexico intact and was the picture of nonchalance, splayed out on a table alongside business cards and a small catalog from a recent show.
Since the crate’s arrival, they sold two additional works, En rang d’Onion (2017) by Julie Curtiss and BREAKING: Pasadena Man’s Brave Response To Waitress’ Facebook Post Proves He Is 1000% Not Complicit In Rape Culture! And, 30 Photos of Real Avocado Toast You Will Never Not Believe Haven’t Been Photoshopped (Must Be 21+ To View) (2018) by Morgan Blair. All were around $10,000 and Bulman said that, as of Saturday, they only had two paintings left for sale.
“We should have brought more!” said Grayson.
Ian Rosenfeld, director of London’s Rosenfeld Porcini, said the fair seemed more sparsely attended than last year’s, when he attended for the first time, and said he had the general impression from his peers that sales were less than robust. Rafael Parra of Spanish gallery Javier López & Fer Francés said he felt the upcoming elections may be causing some people to worry, compounded by the potential for the value of the peso to drop relative to the dollar; the currency has stabilized since the beginning of the year at around 18 pesos to one U.S. dollar, down from close to 20 in December. He said they had sold some small works by Eduardo Sarabia for $15,000 to $20,000 but “nothing major.”
Teófilo Cohen of Mexico City gallery Proyectos Monclova, on the other hand, observed an increase in international visitors this year. Cohen said he’d met collectors from Belgium, France, New York, Chicago, and Canada. But, he said, “We’re local, so we sell well.” He said works by Eduardo Terrazas, Tercerunquinto, Chantal Peñalosa, and Gabriel de la Mora had all sold, with prices ranging from $2,500 for Peñalosa’s work to up to around $50,000 for de la Mora’s eye-catching arrangements of neon Post-It notes. The three works from 2017 by de la Mora had sold by Friday night.
Across the board, Mexican galleries seemed to be outselling their international peers.
Cristobal Riestra, a partner at Galería OMR, one of Mexico City’s most established galleries, said works by Jose Dávila had been selling well both from their current show at the gallery and at the fair. Everything they put out by Gabriel Rico, a young Guadalajara artist whose star is rising, also sold. Though Riestra, too, noted that the weekend is the clincher at Zona Maco.
“It’s sort of an endurance race,” he said, to promote Mexican artists, which his gallery and others such as Kurimanzutto and Proyectos Monclova have been doing for years. He said the work is starting to pay off: “Now they are indeed in the international eye, and people are coming to Mexico and to Guadalajara to visit their studios.”
Riestra said Mexican collectors were growing more ambitious, looking to acquire bigger works, start foundations and museums, and seeking the guidance of art advisors as they grow their collections. He noted that the Mexican economy is strong and, specifically, that the Mexican people who buy art are getting wealthier and wealthier, which, alongside the worldwide trend of putting money into art as an asset, was boosting the local market.
Even though OMR has two spaces in Mexico City, Riestra said the fair was a key time for sales, since a lot of the Mexican public and even collectors don’t always visit galleries throughout the year (collectors are busy, he noted). OMR sold Arquihaikus by Jorge Méndez Blake, Atlas (2011), and La llama vista a través un cuerno (2018) by Rico, whose works are in the $10,000 range. The booth’s price range went up to $150,000 for a work by James Turrell.
Mauricio Galguera of Mexico City and Berlin’s Galería Hilario Galguera had a similar take. He said Mexican collectors were just beginning to get comfortable taking risks on younger artists, often after they’ve made a few initial investments in big names, such as the ones Galguera’s gallery represents, which include Damien Hirst, Daniel Buren, and Jannis Kounellis.
“These bigger names, Damien Hirst, Daniel Buren, [John] Baldessari, they’re an interesting first approach, a safe spot—artists that already have a name that you can go and buy one and it will be identifiable to anyone in your circle,” he said. “But this also opens the door for these collectors to understand that they can spend a bit more money than they were used to on some perhaps lesser-known artists who are also very important, but who are not as notorious or famous as these super stars, so it’s a very good entry point for us. Working with Damien, with Buren opens the door.”
At Zona Maco, Galguera sold work not only by Buren—an untitled 2018 mirrored work for $150,000 to a local collector—but also had strong interest in younger artists who they have shown at their curator-driven project space El Cuarto de Máquinas, including Marco Treviño, Gwladys Alonzo, and Benjamin Torres. They sold Alonzo’s Caillou Ciré II (2017), for $10,000, and Torres’s Colisiones Temporales: agosto 1986, I (2018), also for $10,000.
He was optimistic about the future, citing a “new fantastic generation of collectors in their thirties to mid-forties, people who will eventually inherit big companies,” who travel frequently, have a global mindset, and are open to learning about new artists, especially from a gallery they know.
Gabriel de la Mora, Social, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and PROYECTOSMONCLOVA. Photo by Studio Gabriel de la Mora.
Tercerunquinto, Arqueología del muro político. Palimpsesto de estudios preliminares. Estudio de taller 1, 2017. Courtesy of the artist and PROYECTOSMONCLOVA. Photo by Rodrigo Viñas.
Both at Zona Maco and at two satellite fairs that opened on Thursday, these younger collectors (or would-be collectors) were indeed out in force.
Gustavo Arróniz, founder of Mexico City gallery Arróniz Arte Contemporáneo, shows at both Zona Maco and Salón Acme, which was held this year in its sixth edition in a series of grand, crumbling, court-yarded buildings. Arróniz said Zona Maco was a broader market in part because it “attracts people who during the year don’t normally care about buying art, rich people who live close to the fair,” and want to support it.
Salón Acme, by contrast, “has its own voice, it’s more about discovering emerging audiences,” Arróniz said. “We can do both because [Salón Acme] is cheaper,” roughly a tenth of the price for participating in Zona Maco, or $2,500 versus $25,000. He said Salón Acme attracted people like a friend of his who is not herself in the art world but wants to buy something each year that’s “affordable and good,” and who might find Material, another satellite fair, “too alternative.”
At Zona Maco, Arróniz said sales were “very good,” mostly because he was showing a young painter, Omar Rodriguez-Graham, who is “very hot right now.” Of the three paintings he brought, he had sold two by Thursday morning to people who had seen it during the preview. “But those are the strategies,” he said. “You can’t present something too intellectually complicated in Maco,” whereas he could be a little more experimental Acme.
Nerea Fernández of Madrid’s NF/ Nieves Fernandez, who was showing at Zona Maco, said she thought Salón Acme might actually be a better match for her program if participation wasn’t limited to Mexican galleries. She said that the stakes had been raised at Zona Maco, which has matured from a fair with more emerging galleries that attracted a lot of curators to one that brings in more “powerful galleries” with blue-chip names.
“It’s more difficult for younger galleries now, because these collectors, they’re not going to come by your booth, and the other ones are going to stop coming because they’re not looking for Ai Weiwei,” she said.
However, Homero Fernández, a founder of Salón Acme who also has a gallery in Mexico City, Parque Galería, said in Mexico City, the range of fairs can work symbiotically. Salón Acme was started as a platform for artists, a way to help those without representation find a connection to the market. But he also shows at Zona Maco, where he can expose his young artists to the key collectors who are drawn by the blue-chip names.
“A lot of collectors come [to Mexico City] from Latin America because of the blue-chip galleries, and for me as a gallery it’s important to put my artists in that network of the big collectors,” he said. Fernández was showing work by artists such as Sam Durant and Allen Ruppersberg, who sell for up to $60,000, as well as by younger artists whose work goes for around $6,000.
“The good collectors go and check out the emerging spaces,” he said.
Galguera said that was one lovely thing about the Mexican market: As a collector this week, “you find a niche for everything.”
“You have the more established fair like Maco, where you have all the famous international galleries coming in, then you have, economically speaking, the mid-level fair, Material, which has some fantastic projects, and then you have Acme, geared toward emerging artists,” he said. “In terms of economics, I think there’s a target for everything.”